Imagine yourself in a helicopter over Milwaukee, USA, on the shiny morning of June 13, 1998.
You look down casually on the criscrossing tangle of roads on Interstate 94, and then do a doubletake. You can't believe your eyes.
It seems like there are hundreds of moving objects on the highway below. Maybe even thousands. You watch in horror as a veritable sea of black advances like warrior ants into downtown Milwaukee.
You hastily reach for your binoculars and your heart goes thump, thump, thump. Thousands upon thousands of Harley bikers, swathed in trademark leather and shining chrome bikes seem to be almost invading the city.
What should you do? Maybe you should call the newspaper. The police perhaps. Surely Milwaukee needs some sort of warning.
But it's too late. The bikers are already in the city.
Then you see the fluttering flags
The roads of Milwaukee seem to be lined with cheering people.
Flags flutter in the sunshine. The roar of the crowd seems to drown the chucka, chucka, chucka sound of the helicopter you're in.
Down at street level, 50,000 proud Harleys roar through the city.
You don't know it yet, but among those riders are senior executives, CEOs, employees and long-time owners of Harleys. It's a heck of a parade and over 125,000 owners turn up for Harley's big 95th Come Home' birthday.
Wouldn't it surprise you, even appall you, to know that in the spring of 1984, just 14 years earlier, only twenty eight bikers showed up?
28 to 365,000 members: What changed in 14 years?
It's called HOG. Short for Harley Owners Group.
Harley had dug a deep financial hole for themselves in 1983. Money for advertising was kinda non-existent. Saddled with this Catch 22 situation, Harley Davidson set about creating the first HOG chapter.
Using newsletters and club magazines they built their susbcriber base one member at a time. From one solitary chapter, the HOG has mushroomed to an astounding 940 chapters around the world.
Working on an advertising budget of 10 cents or less
In 1997, Harley Davidson spent just $1 million on advertising. Before you say “Oh, I don't have a million,” — look at Harley's advertising budget for 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992…all the way to 1984.
A big fat zero.
All their money, squillions of dollars, went into creating an absolutely top-notch product. And then creating a community that would buy into the brand.
You were expecting some big secret, weren't you?
It's called community. Yeah, that's the big secret. Creating community among your clients. Harley does it. Sting does it. Apple does it. So why don't you do it?
It's way too much trouble, huh?
Well let's jump back to Harley Davidson's profit line. Think jackets, boots, gloves, t-shirts, bike accessories, baseball caps. Then do the math. Don't you think each HOG member is going to spend at least $10 to keep up his/her Harley image?
What's $10 profit x 350,000 members? You got it. $3.5 million.
Now let's look at actual figures In 1996, Harley took home $100 million. Up from $20 million, just eight years before in 1988. Mind boggling, huh?
And we're not even counting the profits from the sales of the Harley bikes!
So how can you do a Harley?
Let's face it. You work too damn hard in your business
Yes, you know you've got to sell time and again to a customer.
And yes you know the real profit lies in your existing customer coming back time and again. And that customers talk to customers and it helps to build sales.
But where the heck are you going to get the time to do all of this community business?
If Katrina can do it, you can
Katrina runs a little dress store in a town that boasts of less than 15,000 residents. Business can be cut-throat, specially with the big megastores within ‘small business gobbling distance.'
Yet Katrina's done a ‘Harley.'
Every month, Katrina heads out for coffee. And she's not alone.
In the quaint little cafe down the road, there's a hubbub of excitement. Katrina's customers are having a whale of a time. They're laughing, chatting and tucking into cheesecake — while Katrina picks up the tab month after month.
Do you see the word advertising anywhere?
Printing of glossy brochures? Hundreds of dollars of publicity?
All it costs is $2.50 for a coffee. Per customer. Per month.
That's all it takes. And Katrina's community builds one customer at a time. Customers bring friends, friends bring friends and the dresses fly out of Katrina's dress store.
Why community is the most powerful secret of all
1) The competition doesn't have a clue
While conventional advertising and publicity is great, it costs serious moolah. And everyone, including competitors, can see exactly what you're doing. Once they get their grubby hands on your plans, they can outspend you, outsmart you and send your business into outer Mongolia.
With community, you can see who's coming through the door. And you're the doorkeeper. It gives you the chance to create Super Glue loyalty, long before your competition wises up.
2) Communities give specific and vital feedback
Ja, ja. They may complain good-naturedly at times. But mostly they'll be giving you valuable feedback. They'll tell you what they want and what is passe. They'll bond with you. Trust you and your judgement with each meeting.
You will no longer have to guess what your customers want.
They'll tell you even without your asking. What more could you ask for?
3) No man is an island
You've heard that phrase before. No man or woman likes to be an isolated case. Psychologically, we all like to be part of a group, a society, a country or a community of some sort. Give your clients something to cling to and watch how leaders and volunteers form within the community, dramatically lessening your workload.
Bankers call it compound interest
Invest in an account now and put away a little bit every day
Suddenly before you know it, you've got gazillions in the bank.
Building community is no different. You'll have to put the pieces together, one evangelist at a time.
Ladies and gentlemen, rev up your engines. Hit the road and start building your community. And you'll find as Harley has found with HOG.
That yes, communities do bring home the ‘bacon.' 😉